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close this bookGuide for Managing Change for Urban Managers and Trainers (HABITAT, 1991, 190 p.)
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View the documentThe urban manager: evolving roles for managing change
View the documentStrategic planning: concepts and strategies for planned change
View the documentCulture and management
View the documentPower, influence and personal empowerment: making a difference back on the job
View the documentManaging change: the leadership dimension

The urban manager: evolving roles for managing change




Topic: The urban manager: evolving roles

Time required: Approximately 2 hours

This session is designed to help those participants, who are managers or supervisors in local governments or urban agencies, take a closer look at the various roles they perform.


(1) Ask participants to spend about an hour reading the essay on The Urban Manager: Evolving Roles For Managing Change. One possibility is to assign the essay for the evening before the training session when it is scheduled to be discussed. (As a trainer, I do not allocate enough time during training events for participants to read materials that are made available. While this non-practice probably represents a personal bias about the importance of experiential learning, I must admit it is equally important to provide reflection time during residential training programmes. So, as a trainer, give your trainees an opportunity to read and reflect.)

(2) Start the training session by giving each participant five white 3”x5” cards and two of a contrasting colour. Instruct them to spend a few minutes alone to record five management roles they believe they perform very well on the white cards and two management roles they would like to improve their skills in performing on the other two cards. To reiterate, record on the white cards five of the roles they do well and record on the other two cards those roles they would like to improve upon (one on each card).

(3) After each participant has completed the tasks in step 2, instruct them to stand up, circulate among their fellow participants, discuss what is on their cards, and try to find another person who performs a role very well that they don’t. In other words, if someone has a management role listed on a coloured card which they want to learn how to perform better, they should try to find a person who has that same role listed on one of his or her five white cards.

(4) Give the participants about 15-20 minutes to circulate and find a match between their coloured card role learning interest and a white carded resource. At this point, ask if there are any participants who have not found another person who can help them, have them state what is on one or both of their coloured cards, and ask for white card matches. If it is not possible to match each participant one-on-one, put them in small groups of three or four.

(5) Also announce at this time that they will have about 45 minutes to discuss those roles they would like to improve upon, using as resources those who do it well. (Yes, I’m aware that this exercise can create some confusion if everyone wants to be a learner and not a resource - but that’s part of the challenge of being a creative trainer, isn’t it? Use your own creativity to make it work effectively.)

(6) After this 45 minute free-for-all, reconvene the total group and ask them to talk about their experiences in the free-for-all discussions. You may also want to find out which roles they want more help on as well as those they, as a group, believe they currently do well. Some of this data can be collected by the trainer by also circulating among participants during their one-on-one conversations.

(7) Bring closure to the discussion of urban manager roles by asking the participants how well they thought the session went, and why. It’s an opportunity to obtain some feedback on a training approach we haven’t suggested earlier in the manual.

Final Note: There are many other ways to discuss the ideas that are put forth in the following essay on urban management roles. For example, you could take the six roles I have suggested as critical to the urban manager’s role in developing countries and have each participant allocate the 100 percent of their work time among those six roles. In other words, do they spend 10% on policy, 23% on being a strategic planner, X% on resource management, etc.? It is another way to encourage individual training participants to reflect on their own experience vis-a-vis ideas put forth by others. If the six roles are not all-encompassing, the participants can be encouraged to create additional roles they believe they perform on-the job. To assist in this option, a short check list has been provided at the end of the essay.


Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny

Frank Hubbard

There are at least two streams of thought about the universal application of management and organizational theory. One stream contends that managerial and organizational issues and solutions have become increasingly similar as commerce and development expand across national boundaries. The other argues that national, and even local, cultures still have a dominant influence on the way managers and organizations behave. The truth is probably somewhere between these two points of view. The intent, herein, is not to take a stand on either side of this ongoing academic exercise but to draw from the writing of others and my own experience to help you better understand the role of the urban manager and how it can be enhanced through training and development.

Early attempts at defining the urban manager’s role were both insightful and simplistic. Luther Gulick’s acronym POSDCORB, coined in the 1930s, has withstood decades of theory bashing by other academics. POSDCORB stands for Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting, and Budgeting. Gulick saw these functions as the core responsibilities of the local government manager.

Later, theorists divided the management function by employee and production centered styles (Rensis Likert) and people and task oriented management (Robert Blake). These two-dimensional concepts of management dominated in the 1950s and 60s but were seen as a bit simplistic as we entered the decade of the 70s. The academic community, concerned with such things, then began to talk about “contingency” theories of management. In other words, “It all depends on the situation.”

At a minimum, one can say that management is a complex business. Urban management with its added dimensions of community involvement and local politics is very complex - even impossible at times.

As stated earlier, the intent is not to take a stand about what urban/local government management is, or should be, but to shed light on it. Peter Drucker, in a paper about public administration’s deadliest sins, said, “In public service, increasingly we start out with a ‘position’ - that is, with a totally untested theory- and go from it immediately to national, if not international application.” Unfortunately, “Successful application still demands adaptation, cutting, fitting, trying, balancing.” The application of these “tailoring” strategies is good advice as we try to find a set of urban management ideas to fit our own particular situation.


Henry Mintzberg, in his classic look at The Nature of Managerial Work, published in 1973, identified eight approaches to managerial work that have dominated the literature over the years. These wide ranging “schools of thought” about management account for the equally diverse conclusions their proponents come to in “helping” us understand what we do, or should do, as managers.

These schools, according to Mintzberg, are:

(1) The Classical school, which emphasizes composite pictures or sets of functions that characterize all management jobs.

(2) The Great Man school, which selects “effective leaders,” observes them, and presents them as models for other would-be great men.

(3) The Entrepreneurship school, which focuses on the manager as innovator, creative thinker, and opportunity finder.

(4) The Decision Theory school, which focuses on how managers make decisions in a complex environment.

(5) The Leader Effectiveness school, which looks at personality traits and management style as the factors that lead to effective performance.

(6) The Leader Behaviour school, which looks at what some managers actually do on the job to draw conclusions about management behaviour and required skills.

(7) The Leader Power school, which zeros in on sources of power managers can use to maximize their control.

(8) The Work Activity school, which relies on diaries of practicing managers, paying particular attention to time, as a way to identify trends and draw conclusions about management activity.

Most contemporary management literature falls into the leader behaviour school -focusing on what managers do - how they behave in given situations. It recognizes behaviour as the bottom line of management. Paul Appleby, who wrote some of the early texts on public administration, had a behavioural prescription for what the manager should ask him or herself before acting: “Who’s going to be mad? How mad? Who’s going to be glad? How glad?”


Mintzberg carried out a comprehensive study of chief executives from a variety of organizations and concluded there were some “organized sets of behaviour” common to most management jobs. While they may be somewhat culture bound (his research was limited to Western manager sand institutions), the way he defines the various managerial roles are useful in helping managers think about what they do, regardless of the cultural or organizational context.

The managerial roles Mintzberg identified fall into three major categories, interpersonal roles, informational roles, and decisional roles. Here is a more detailed description of these roles and their subsets.

I. Interpersonal Roles, related to the manager’s formal authority and include:

(a) Figurehead: carries out representational and ceremonial duties

(b) Leader: performs the role as formal head of the organization, someone who directs and motivates subordinates to achieve organizational goals

(c) Liaison: works with people outside the formal chain of command in efforts to bring information into the organization and to gain favor from others

It is through these roles that the manager builds a network of support within and outside the organization.

II. Informational Roles, put the manager in the “nerve center” of the organization. These include:

(a) Monitor: The manager continually scans the environment to receive and collect information

(b) Disseminator: Passes along special or privileged information that subordinates may not otherwise be able to obtain

(c) Spokesperson: Speaks for the organization and repeats it to others

III. Decisional roles: How the manager uses available resources, personal and otherwise, to take action. They include:

(a) Entrepreneur: Works to improve the organization, bringing about planned, voluntary, controlled, positive changes

(b) Disturbance Handler: Takes corrective action in response to pressures or changes that are beyond personal control

(c) Resource Allocator: Decides who will get what resources

(d) Negotiator: Discusses and bargains with other organizations, or work units, to obtain advantages for his or her own unit or organization

The overall responsibility of the manager is to use each of these roles individually, or in combination, to get things done for the organization and its members.



Robert Katz defines managerial effectiveness in terms of skills. These skills are needed in varying degrees, depending upon the level of the organization at which the manager is operating. I would also argue that the degree to which the manager exercises these skills depend on the size of the organization and its programmes and services. Katz defines managerial skills as:

(a) Technical Skills: The methods, processes, procedures, and techniques required on the part of the manager to carry out managerial functions. They include specialized knowledge of various internal processes, whether they are infrastructure, maintenance, budgeting, or administrative in nature, and analytical abilities to break down these processes into “manageable” pieces. Normally, the closer to the line the manager is (e.g., first line managers), the greater the need to be proficient in technical skills.

(b) Human Skills: The skills which not only help the manager “get along” with employees but help them manage the employee’s productivity, conflicts, motivation, and development in an effective manner. People management skills may be the most difficult to learn as a manager. It takes a full measure of awareness about our own attitudes, assumptions and beliefs as well as those of others. Communication is at the heart of human skills - not just the ability to speak effectively, but to listen with understanding and empathy. Effective human skills serve all levels of management and are particularly telling at the first line and middle management levels where officers must work constantly with subordinates and superiors to get their tasks accomplished.

(c) Conceptual Skills: The final category of skills are those involving the ability to see the organization as a whole, recognizing how various functions depend upon each other, and visualize opportunities which aren’t evident to others. Conceptual skills enable the manager to envision new opportunities and perceive new ways of tackling old problems.

Many believe that technical skills become less important as managers move into positions of greater responsibility. In large organizations this is often the case, but it does not hold true in smaller organizations - or in many larger organizations in less developed countries. In such organizations, there is often a scarcity of technical skills and managers, and senior managers, are called upon to fill the technical void. My experience as a city manager in a small community in the United States provided considerable insight into this problem and created opportunities for me to learn new skills. In one small community where I served, the financial and personnel systems were in shambles. It was necessary to design new budget systems and procedures and to carry out comparative analyses of job responsibilities and pay levels. I also learned to develop routine street and sewer maintenance programmes. In a larger organization, these would have been delegated to others who already had the skills and experience.

Many urban managers in developing country settings may have to “get their hands dirty” by learning and applying technical skills that aren’t in the management curriculum of most colleges and universities. More importantly, it is the manager’s responsibility, in these situations, to help others learn to do what they should be doing.

The application of technical skills can be rewarding to the manager, particularly first line supervisors, because it provides the satisfaction of getting things done. Unfortunately, it is often doing what someone else can and should be doing. Technical tasks often put the manager in a position of neglecting other more important responsibilities.

Most managers in developing countries, no matter how high they climb in the organization, have heavy responsibilities for developing others in the organization. While employee development is time consuming, and sometimes frustrating, it may be the urban manager’s most important role. Unless they develop more self sufficient, self reliant, stronger organizations, their legacy as community leaders will be empty.


Peter Drucker, a world resource on management practices, believes being effective is what the manager’s job is. “Whether he works in a business or in a hospital, in a government agency or in a labor union, in a university or in the army, the executive is, first of all, expected to get the right things done. And this is simply that he is expected to be effective.” Drucker says effectiveness is a “habit” or a complex set of practices. Here are five “habits of mind” the manager needs if he or she is to be effective.

(a) Managing the portion of their time that they can control and knowing where their time goes.

(b) Focusing on outward contributions, gearing their efforts to results rather than work.

(c) Building on the strengths they have at their disposal, including their own strengths as well as those of their colleagues, subordinates, and the situations they face.

(d) Concentrating on the few major areas that will produce the most outstanding results by setting clear priorities and sticking with them.

(e) Making effective decisions, knowing that a decision is “a judgement based on ‘dissenting opinions’ rather than on ‘consensus on the facts’.”

Drucker’s “habits” are worth reemphasizing. The effective manager: manages his or her time and knows where it goes; focuses on results rather than work; builds from strengths (their own and the organization’s); concentrates their efforts on the most important issues and concerns; and makes effective decisions.

On this later point he emphasizes the importance of “creative dissent” within the organization. Drucker does not trust “consensus based on the facts.”


The International City Management Association (ICMA) has always been the bellwether of opinion regarding what constitutes effective urban or local government management in the United States and Canada. Its voice is increasingly heard in other countries as it defines systems and standards for improving local government performance.

The following is a summary of some of their pronouncements about effective local government management over the last decade, starting with a synopsis of views expressed in their 1983 publication, The Effective Local Government Manager.


In the 1983 publication the authors defined the urban manager’s role and responsibilities as: (1) relating to the community; (2) working with the governing body; (3) managing with effectiveness (getting the right things done), efficiency (accomplishing them in the right way), and economy (limiting the use of scarce resources); (4) creating conditions for excellence in the organization; (5) promoting the community’s future; (6) representing the community with other governments; and (7) maintaining personal effectiveness. Cutting across these management responsibilities are four themes: managing people, managing change, building and maintaining relationships; and managing publicity.

When we compare this vague list of responsibilities with the practical POSDCORB of the 1930s, we can’t help but wonder what has prompted the dramatic shift in definition. Is it because most urban managers in the United States and Canada have the basic knowledge and skills to carry out the POSDCORB mandate? Do they have a depth of staff that allows them to be more “conceptual” in their approach to the role of urban manager? Or, is it in response to a growing trend to describe the manager’s role in increasingly vague behavioural terms?

ICMA, a year after publishing of The Effective Local Government Manager, launched a research effort to define the basic elements of local government excellence. This effort was in response to the Peters and Waterman best seller, In Search of Excellence, that described the characteristics of successfully managed private sector organizations. The “local government excellence” criteria defined by ICMA at that time are:

(a) Action orientation: Excellent local governments identify problems and deal with them quickly, fighting through structural, political, legal, and environmental constraints that make action more difficult than for private companies.

(b) Closeness to citizens: This attribute includes establishing and maintaining a variety of close linkages with citizens being served, including those who are regulated against their will. Excellent local governments listen and are sensitive and responsive to public input.

(c) Autonomy and entrepreneurship: Excellent local governments have developed a climate conducive to thinking up and doing new things to solve problems and have a track record of implementing creative solutions even in the face of declining resources.

(d) Employee orientation: For a local government to be excellent, this criterion requires more than lip service to employees and their needs. Excellent public organizations insist on intense, pervasive treatment of employees as human beings and adults.

(e) Values: Excellent local governments have defined a set of values. Their thrust is toward being the best -providing superior quality and service to the public. Their values are communicated and demonstrated to employees and provide the source of enthusiasm and inspiration.

(f) Mission, goals, and competence: Mission is the underlying premise of the organization. Excellent local governments have evaluated their missions based on changing resource levels and citizen demands and have used mission statements as the foundation for establishing community and/or organizational goals. Within their mission, excellent local governments provide consistent, uniform levels of service.

(g) Structure: In excellent local governments, the potential negative effects of antiquated, bureaucratic structures have been minimized. These organizations have fewer management levels and fewer central and support staffs and provide firm central direction while giving maximum autonomy to employees.

(h) Political relationships: This criterion departs most radically from the Peters Waterman model - but it is perhaps the most important of the attributes. Political relationships in excellent local governments have three characteristics: (a) they involve positive, open, respectful relationships between policy makers and management staff; (b) they deal openly, forthrightly, and effectively with their environments; (c) they possess environmental stability at the political level.


At the risk of burdening you with too many “snapshots” of the manager’s role, I believe the following are also worth a brief look. They represent different perceptions of what is involved in effective management and together convey a pattern of consistency about the manager’s role.


Richard Boyatzis examined, in depth, the functions, responsibilities and expectations of over 2000 managers in 12 organizations representing 41 different management jobs. From his findings he isolated and identified 19 competencies directly related to successful managerial performance. He describes effective job performance as “the attainment of specific results (i.e., outcomes) required by the job through specific actions while maintaining or being consistent with policies, procedures and conditions of the organizational environment.”

To define the characteristics of managerial competence, Boyatzis categorizes the competencies he isolated and studied into five dusters: (1) goal and action management; (2) leadership; (3) human resource management; (4) directing subordinates; and (5) focus on others. Here is a brief description of the components of each cluster.

I. The “Goal and Action Management” Cluster

(a) Efficiency orientation represents a concern for doing something better

(b) Proactivity, a disposition toward taking action to accomplish something

(c) Diagnostic use of concepts is a way of thinking that identifies or recognizes patterns from an assortment of information, by bringing a concept to the situation and attempting to interpret events through that concept. The person has a framework or concept of how an event should transpire.

(d) Concern with impact is the use of symbols of power to have impact on others. For example, such people dress in a fashion and style considered desirable and attractive in their surroundings.

II. The “Leadership” Cluster

(a) Self confidence, often called decisiveness or presence. People with self confidence feel they know what they are doing and that they are doing well.

(b) Use of oral presentations, a competency with which people make effective verbal presentations, whether in one-to-one meetings or before an audience of several hundred people.

(c) Logical thought, a process in which the person places events in a casual sequence.

(d) Conceptualization, the ability to identify or recognize patterns in an assortment of information. This individual develops a concept that describes a pattern or structure perceived in a set of facts.

III. The “Human Resource Management” Cluster

(a) Use of socialized power to build alliances, networks, coalitions, or teams.

(b) Positive regard is belief in others and a positive belief that people are good.

(c) Managing group process, the ability to stimulate others to work together effectively in group settings.

(d) Accurate self assessment, the capacity to see one’s own strengths and weaknesses and to know personal limitations, a characteristic sometimes called self objectivity.

IV. “Directing Subordinates” Cluster

(a) Developing others is a competency with which managers specifically help someone do his or her job.

(b) Use of unilateral power is the ability to use various forms of influence to obtain compliance. Others see such people as “being in charge”.

(c) Spontaneity, expressing oneself freely and easily.

V. The “Focus On Others” Cluster

(a) Self control is the ability to inhibit personal needs or desires in service of organizational needs. People with this trait constantly weigh costs and benefits to themselves and the organization before expressing or acting on personal needs or desires.

(b) Perceptual objectivity is the competency to be relatively objective and not limited in view by excessive subjectivity or personal biases, prejudices, or perspectives.

(c) Stamina and adaptability describes those people who have the energy to sustain long hours of work and have the flexibility and orientation to adapt to changes in life and the organizational environment.

(d) Finally, concern with dose relationships is seen as a characteristic of the competent manager who cares about and builds dose relationships with individuals.

The competencies outlined above go far beyond commonly accepted managerial skills and knowledge. They are described as “underlying characteristics of a person which results in effective and/or superior performance on the job.” These competencies, or underlying characteristics, may be motives, traits, skills, aspects of one’s self image or social role, or a body of knowledge which he or she uses. While they may seem abstract and somewhat idealistic, the American Management Association has used the Boyatzis competency model as the basis for a graduate degree programme in management.


One final perspective to be shared at this time is that of managers. What do they perceive as the characteristics of the effective manager? In a workshop for urban managers from East and Southern Africa, we asked the participants, in two different task groups, to identify the characteristics associated with effective managers - and ineffective managers. These are presented below without editing although the lists have been reorganized to provide some parallel comparison.

In addition, the list includes a third column of characteristics from a survey conducted with managers attending a series of executive development programmes in California. These participants were asked to identify those characteristics they associated with superior leaders. Over 2600 managers completed the survey and their responses were rank ordered in terms of frequency (1 = most frequently mentioned; 2 = second most, etc.). The twenty most frequently mentioned characteristics from that survey are also listed in the following chart.




· good communication

· gossips

· good listener

· antagonistic

· mistrusting

· inspiring (4)

· fatherly/motherly

· dictatorial/brash

· supportive (11)

· caring (13)

· makes decisions

· indecisive evades making decisions

· determined (17)

· public/human relations - skills

· does not care about welfare of workers

· excessively critical

· honest (1)

· has integrity

· blames others when things go wrong

· intellectually honest

· dishonest

· exudes confidence

· lacks self confidence

· courageous (12)

· looks for cheap publicity

· patient

· unforgiving

· cooperative (14)

· knowledgeable

· technically incompetent

· competent (2)

· knows what needs to be done

· theoretical/not practical

· develops staff

· does not motivate others

· lacks motivation

· “contented”

· divisive (divides and rules)

· dependable (10)

· generous

· favoritism/not fair

· dynamic

· resists new ideas

· forward looking (2)

· good contact

· lacks coordination

· lacks follow up

· firm and fair

· doesn’t discipline

· fairminded (6)

· practical

· lack of direction and purpose

· straight forward (8)

· delegates responsibility

· does not delegate

· sense of humor

The California list of characteristics also included the following (for which there were no close parallels in the African lists: intelligent (5); broadminded (7); ambitious (16); self-controlled (18); loyal (19); and, independent (20)). These lists are replicated here because they offer some insight into what managers look for in their peers’ behaviour as managers and perhaps their own behaviour as well. While there are some significant differences between the two lists, I was surprised at the commonality.

More importantly, the list of characteristics of the ineffective manager, as generated by the African participants, provides insights about where to target training and development investments. Among other things, the ineffective manager’s shortcomings suggest that interpersonal and personal traits of behaviour are critical to effective managerial performance - and, therefore, legitimate topics for training. [Note to trainers: the exercise of generating data about managerial effectiveness (or other aspects of the managerial process) is easy to perform in a training programme. As a trainer, never hesitate to tap the knowledge and experiences of the participants as one legitimate source of ideas and insights from which all can learn.]


We have looked at a variety of concepts and ideas about the role of the effective manager. Some of them apply directly to local government administrators while others are more general. In dosing this discussion, I want to share with you some of my own thoughts about the roles and responsibilities of the urban manager. They are based on first hand observations and what I believe would be most beneficial in building strong, viable local governments in developing countries. The six roles encompass many other sub-roles and are, at times, overlapping. They are: the policy advisor; the strategic planner; the implementor; the human resource developer; the communicator; and the resource manager. These roles are not presented in any order of importance. They all are important. Some are just more important than others at certain times. The competent manager is also one who knows when it is more important to perform one role at the expense of others.


There is a tendency among urban managers in less developed countries to deny any role in policy formulation. Most, it would seem, believe policy is the sole purview of the local elected leaders - or the national government. There is a tremendous policy leadership void at the local level and urban managers can help fill the void. With their experience, knowledge about urban problems and opportunities, and access to data and information about problems and trends in the community, they have a responsibility to advise elected leadership about policy matters.

There is also a tendency to elevate “policy” to such a lofty plane that it immobilizes many appointed officers. What is policy? Well, it’s many things - statements of intent, an expression of some desired outcome, agreed upon community goals, and programmes and services that have been given greater priority than others. Often policy evolves out of an accumulation of many operational decisions or responses to problems first perceived at lower levels in the organization. City askaris (guards) who routinely take action against hawkers without direction from the city council are, in fact, making policy. A decision by the Town Clerk to provide better and more frequent sanitation services to the business community may be setting a policy. Policies involve inaction as well as action. The Town Clerk who ignores infrastructure maintenance, which has long term service and economic implications for the community, is involved in policy development - albeit negative in its tone and consequences.

The skills involved in policy advising are not inconsistent with those of strategic planning. They involve: being aware of community and organization problems and communicating them to the policy makers; looking for opportunities to capitalize on opportunities that will benefit the organization and community and communicating them to the council; collecting data on critical services and programmes, projecting their trends, and assessing their consequences; and, helping councillors and other local leaders gain a clearer vision about the future of the community so better policy decisions can be made. Few individuals are in a position to be more helpful in the policy arena than chief local government officers. They understand what is happening in and to the community and have access to data and information that can be used to formulate alternative courses of action. The manager, as policy advisor, has his or her finger on the community pulse and constantly scans the environment for its impact on the community. Policy advising is a managerial prerogative and responsibility. Whether or not it is spelled out in the job description is irrelevant. It is inherent with the role.


At the heart of management is decision making. And decision making is synonymous with strategic planning. While the act of making decisions is usually associated with implementation, (getting things done within the organization), I believe decision making is integral to the planning phase of management. Planning is decision making. Implementation should result from planning decisions and not represent a time when planning decisions are made. To state it differently, implementation is the act of carrying out decisions arrived at through planning.

When we think of decision making as a skill associated primarily with the planning process, it forces us to redefine our thinking about planning and implementation as management events. In this context, the true output of planning is a set of decisions it causes to be implemented.

Recent comparisons of Japanese and American management styles are interesting and instructive in terms of decision making as planning or implementation. Japanese managers have a tendency to spend, at least in the minds of most Americans, an inordinate amount of time on “problem finding.” This often means getting agreement on the questions to be asked. In Japanese organizations implementation results from consensus decisions which emanate from in-depth discussions and reflection on the issues involved (problem finding).

American managers, by contrast, tend to rush into situations with the mind set of problem solving. Solving problems is where the action is (or, at least, that is the myth), and the American manager wants to be remembered as someone who gets things done. Unfortunately, this approach to problem solving ignores, even denies, the planning (decision making) phase of management we’ve been talking about.

What often results from this precipitous behaviour on the part of the American manager is an enormous expenditure of time and energy after the decision is made, either selling the solution or justifying it to others. The American manager often arrives at his answer to the problem while the Japanese manager is still trying to figure out what questions need to be asked. The results from these two approaches are becoming increasingly clear to those who research managerial and organizational behaviour. The Japanese, once a decision is made (largely through widespread consultation and consensus building), are in a position to implement it quickly. They can move knowing there is agreement on the statement of the problem or opportunity and the planned solution or course of action to be taken.

The American, on the other hand, has confused problem solving with decision making. Consequently, the American manager spends valuable time in what I would call backward planning. Backward planning is the act of validating or justifying decisions (planning) already taken on the job.


Project implementation, and the ongoing operation and maintenance of programmes and services, are the bane of Third World development. Some of the blame falls on donor countries and international agencies that loan funds and put projects into place with little concern for future operation and maintenance. Sometimes they build, or support the building of, inappropriate high tech facilities that cater primarily to the needs of their own country’s commercial interests. One major donor recently completed a “state of the art” water purification plant and distribution system in Bangladesh. Less than a month after dedication by the President of Bangladesh, the plant stopped functioning, requiring spare parts and technical assistance from the donor country.

More attention must be given in the planning (decision making) stages of project development to such issues as ongoing operation, maintenance, cost recovery, the appropriateness of the technology (both social and technical), and the development of more viable, responsible institutions. While the ability and the will to implement projects, programmes, and services is critical to local government development, they are given short shrift by almost every agency involved in the development business.

Implementation means to carry out, accomplish, produce, fulfill, complete, maintain and operate. Implementation is doing what was said would be done in the local government’s strategic plan, budgets and policies in terms of community projects, programmes and services. The emphasis is not on initial construction of facilities or the initiation of new programmes and services but the ongoing operation and maintenance of these new efforts and those that are already on line. Implementation doesn’t just happen. It must be managed aggressively and continuously.

The key managerial roles that support implementation are: (1) strategic planning (decision making) to assure that inappropriate and unnecessary projects and programmes are not brought on line in the first place; (2) human resource development to assure an adequately trained and motivated cadre of employees to operate and maintain the investment of programmes and services; and (3) resource management, making available adequate funds, time, personnel, materials, and equipment to implement, operate, and maintain projects, programmes, and services.


One of the most pervasive problems afflicting local governments in developing countries is the lack of qualified personnel. There are many culprits.

(a) Most local governments do not have adequate funds to employ and retain competent and qualified personnel.

(b) Working for local governments, particularly those located in rural areas, is often perceived by public managers as detrimental to their long-term career goals.

(c) Training institutions and programmes are not geared to effectively serve the training needs of local governments. They tend to be too academic and wed to traditional modes of curriculum development and delivery. Local governments need hands on, practical, problem solving approaches to training.

(d) Most urban mangers do not have a commitment, strategy, plan or the resources to develop their organization’s personnel.

Human resource development tends to be seen by many managers as an external function, largely the responsibility of training institutions. I would argue otherwise. While developing subordinates involves many things, there are three interrelated activities that are solely in the hands of the supervising manager. They are: direction, support, and delegation.

(a) Direction involves telling subordinates what to do, where to do it, when to do it, and how to do it. It also involves the close supervision of performance. Is the subordinate performing tasks according to agreed upon standards? If not, what does he or she need to do to improve their performance?

(b) The manager’s support of the subordinate is the second major feature of effective on-the-job training and development. Support involves personal interaction with the subordinate: listening, providing encouragement, and increasing the subordinate’s involvement in decision making. Supportive behaviour is characterized by: active listening, honest praise, and interaction - the give and take of mutual decision making and problem solving.

Managerial support of subordinates goes beyond the personal realm. It assures the availability of resources to perform at the standard agreed upon. Depending upon the situation, it may require manpower, equipment, materials, time, expertise, and much more - whatever it takes to get the job done.

Supportive behaviour doesn’t end with good personal interaction between the manager and subordinate and the resources required to perform adequately. It also involves managing the larger work environment to assure that policies, procedures, rules and regulations support effective job performance.

(c) The final key to developing subordinates is delegation - pushing decision making to the lowest level in the organization. Tom Peters says, “The plain fact is that nine of ten managers haven’t delegated enough.” My experience in working with managers in many parts of the world confirms this. One gets the impression that delegation is not only seen as unnecessary but forbidden in many organizations.

The human resource developer role is crucial in countries where there is a shortage of qualified personnel and a dearth of competent mid-managers and supervisors. Contrary to popular opinion, human resource development is a management responsibility not a task to be relegated to training institutions. While these institutions have a supportive role, and an important one, human resource development begins and ends in the work environment.


The urban manager needs to be an effective communicator. This not only means getting information and ideas out to the council, employees, and community, but the ability to listen actively and uncritically to the many messages that flow to the manager who is open and accessible. The urban manager’s position is, or can be, akin to the nerve center of the community, but only if the manager makes a conscious effort to manage this aspect of his or her role. Effective community and organization development involves constant efforts to gather, process and disseminate information from and to all corners of the municipal organization and community.


The local government manager must manage scarce resources. Again this role is tied to others discussed earlier. For example, it is impossible to talk about human resource development without recognizing this is a major aspect of overall resource management. So is strategic planning.

But resource managing is much more. It is: the mobilization of new and continuing revenue sources; the effective allocation of resources among the many programme and service responsibilities of the local government (budgeting); attention to infrastructure and equipment maintenance needs, preferably by setting up preventative maintenance programmes; seeing that equipment, tools, and materials are available to do the job; and managing the time variables. Time is one resource that is equally available to all managers and organizations, no matter how rich or poor they might be in terms of other resources. And yet, time is often poorly managed. Because resources are so scarce in most local governments, it becomes even more crucial to aggressively manage them. The ideas stated above are only a few of the ways the manager can maximize the resources at his or her command.


The roles of the urban/local government manager are many. I have reviewed several commonly recognized definitions of managerial roles and briefly commented on what I believe are six of the most important roles of the urban manager in developing country settings. They are: policy advisor, strategic planner; implementor, human resource developer, communicator, and resource manager. You may already be saying that the roles I have identified are incomplete, not the most important, and inadequately defined. I hope this is the case. The important issue is not whether you agree or disagree with what has been said about the role of the urban manager, but how to develop a highly qualified and dedicated cadre of urban managers. The task is complex, difficult, challenging, and critical to strong, viable, and responsive local governments. While developing competent urban managers involves training and, therefore, training institutions, the task demands, above all, self development on the part of the manager.




The following exercise is a quick check on how you, as a manager, spend your time working on the six urban manager roles just outlined above. Spend a few minutes and list in the right column the percentage of your work time you believe you allocate to each of these roles. If the total of the six roles does not add up to at least 80%, list other roles you perform which consume major blocks of time.

Urban manager roles

% of time spent on each of these roles

1. Policy advising

2. Strategic planning

3. Project, programme and service implementation

4. Human resource/staff development

5. Communicating with Council members, employees, citizens, and other major stake holders

6. Managing scarce resources

(If you still have more than 20% of your work time unaccounted for, list below other major roles you are performing)

7. ________________________________________

8. ________________________________________

9. ________________________________________